Have we just scored an enormous own goal? The alleged UK kidnapping plot

Policeman with Gun Small2 FEBRUARY 2007 -- For the past twenty-four hours the lead story in the UK press has been that of a series of pre-dawn raids and arrests under anti-terrorism legislation in Birmingham. Such arrests are now a common occurrence in the UK and rarely make the national and international news on such a scale. In this case, it is alleged that these arrests are associated with a plot to kidnap, torture and behead a British soldier on UK soil and broadcast the murder on the internet. In the absence of facts, speculation abounds and most in the UK woke up to find harrowing pictures of the executions of Ken Bigley and Daniel Pearl in their morning papers, accompanied by a quote “Baghdad comes to Birmingham”, attributed to a senior policeman.

There has been no kidnap, no torture, no murder and no grisly broadcast but someone somewhere has successfully managed to achieve one of the main aims of political terrorism – to sow the seeds of doubt in the minds of the masses and make them question their safety. In short, a nation has been terrorized and recruitment to our armed forces and police has been potentially compromised, on pure speculation.

Much of the speculation talks of a new and dangerous departure in tactics. But political terrorism generally follows a fairly standard pattern. First you need to grab attention. Acts that breach social norms and affect as many people as possible are favoured at this stage. Mass indiscriminate murder on soft targets such as crowded commuter trains, nightclubs etc., are good at attracting attention. But before long, people want to know why their attention has been grabbed. The next stage is to unsettle the masses further. Widespread disruption is good for this. Attacks on critical infrastructure and the use of unconventional weapons such as chemical or biological devices are ideal at this stage. However at some point you need to send clear messages about your political aims. Targets become much more specific and acts become much more personal. Over the past few months the plots in the UK have shifted from destruction to disruption. Therefore it should have come as no surprise that we were likely to enter a phase where plots such as that alleged would start to occur.

It is the fact that such plots were a ‘when’ not an ’if’ and that we should have been much better equipped to deal with the consequences. The other side know only too well how to use the media to their benefit but time after time we fail to harness the benefits a free press can bring in situations such as this. A bit more co-operation and a bit more trust between the authorities and the media and the nation could have woken up to the story that we knew such a plot was inevitable, we had anticipated it and yesterday morning we worked together to successfully foil one.

Sandra Bell
Director, Homeland Security and Resilience Department

 The views and comments offered here do not necessarily reflect those of the Royal United Services Institute

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